During a chat with a social worker at Surrey Memorial Hospital where he was a volunteer chaplain 14 years ago, Stan Fryer relayed some changes he’d observed in his wife’s behaviour.
Shirley was repeating stories, losing items that were obviously around, being anxious about things that hadn’t bothered her before, and wasn’t writing well anymore.
“I just noticed little things that had gone on for some time, but which became more prevalent,” he recalls.
He was advised by the social worker to get Shirley checked out.
In a way, the White Rock couple was lucky.
The diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease, was early, allowing the Fryers, both in their early to mid-70s at the time, to make the most of the new journey together.
Shirley, aware of the situation, chose to tackle the situation head-on – seeking treatment, social support, and admitting to people she met that she had Alzheimer’s, something that other patients often avoid because of stigma.
Her social nature was – and still is – so prevalent that she has always been greeted with the words “Here comes sunshine!” by people at the White Rock Alzheimer office and the Seniors Come Share Society support group that she attends.
Still, the challenges have increased over the past 14 years, with Stan being Shirley’s sole caregiver.
Stan does virtually everything for his wife: The cooking, cleaning, (a maid visits occasionally) and personal care, including bathing and dressing.
Nowadays, there’s little in the way of meaningful conversation, and the only television that Shirley will tolerate is hockey. (In previous years, she had accused Stan of changing the channels when commercials came on during a show).
“She’s doing well, considering,” says Stan, 88.
Most of the time, Shirley recognizes her husband and her four children (ages 44-64). She has trouble recalling her 12 grandchildren (ages 12-40) and 12 great grandchildren (ages 0-14).
Last week, for the first time, Shirley was put in a nursing home for two weeks – much-needed respite care for her caregiver. She’ll return home on Feb. 1.
In the meantime, Stan is preparing for this Sunday’s Investors Group Walk for Memories.
He’s grateful to the Alzheimer Society of B.C., which has organized the event for close to 20 years.
Stan volunteered with them for 10 years and was the chairman for five Alzheimer walks in White Rock in past years.
In recognition for his service and Shirley’s company, the couple are this year’s honourees at the event.
He says there was no way things could have gone so smoothly over the last 14 years without the things they’ve learned from the society.
The walk will help get the word out, he says.
“I think the awareness is just as important as raising funds.”
A lot of the focus, he says, is about early diagnosis and overcoming the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s – some caregivers, for instance, can’t ever adjust to the fact that their spouse has dementia, and the stress takes its toll.
“I tell people I really don’t have a lot of patience, what I have is a lot of love. Love takes care of patience.”
The Investors Group Walk for Memories takes place Jan. 26 at Eaglequest Golf Course at Coyote Creek (7778 152 St.) Registration starts at 11 a.m. and the event goes from 1-3:30 p.m. For more information or to register, call 604-541-9334 or 1-800-667-3742 or visit www.walkformemories.com
• Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and degenerative brain illness, which causes thinking and memory to become seriously impaired.
• As the disease advances and affects different areas of the brain, various abilities become impaired resulting in changes to abilities and/or behaviour.
• The average lifespan for people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease is eight to 14 years.
• 70,000 people in B.C. are affected by Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. About 10,000 of those are under the age of 65.
• Fear and stigma continue to be huge barriers to seeking help.
• People with dementia can live meaningful and productive lives with early diagnosis.
• Early diagnosis is critical in getting proper medication, education, taking advantage of available support and resources, focusing on life’s priorities and helping to reduce stigma.
—Source: Alzheimer Society of B.C.